This charming red chalk study of a dog was made by Batoni in around 1750 shortly after he began making portraits of visiting British travellers in Rome. The incisive, ad vivum drawing of a pointer can be related to at least two portraits of British sitters. As such, the sheet points to an undervalued aspect of Batoni’s graphic output and an important element of his studio practice.
Batoni was born in Lucca, he settled in Rome in 1727 where he studied under Imperiali and was elected to the Accademia di San Luca in 1741. He became the outstanding portrait painter in Rome, and more than two hundred British travellers sat to him between 1740 and 1784. Batoni developed a distinctive mode for depicting British sitters, often showing them posed with an attribute which pointed to the learning inherent in undertaking the Grand Tour: an antique bust, map, engraving or book. These props were regularly repeated, suggesting that they either formed part of the studio, or that Batoni retained drawings that he could use to help assemble portraits. Batoni’s sitters also regularly posed with dogs. There is evidence that British travellers regularly acquired pets on their travels, Horace Walpole, for example, bought his Roman spaniel Patapan in Florence, but the survival of the present drawing suggests that Batoni also had a stock of life studies of animals which he could deploy in his finished portraits. The lively red chalk drawing of a pointer was used as the model for the dog in the portrait of Joseph Damer, 1st Earl of Dorchester painted in around 1750. In the portrait Batoni shows Damer in a rural setting, holding a gun with a still life of game, adding the pointer to suggest that Damer is resting from a day’s sport.
This finely modelled study is a rare survival from Batoni’s oeuvre. As Bowron and Kerber have noted: ‘that so few of Batoni’s drawings are known today – only about four hundred drawings by his hand. Dating throughout his long career, survive – suggests that many more remain unaccounted for’, previously unrecorded, this drawing is therefore a significant addition giving valuable evidence for the way Batoni constructed his portraits. Previously unrecorded, this sheet was in the collection of the nineteenth-century Genoese sculptor Santo Varni, whose inscription is visible on the bottom right.